Rice Sees Iraq’s Problem as One of Capability, Not Resolve

By David Shelby
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington – The Iraqi government’s inability to rein in sectarian violence in Baghdad, Iraq, reflects a lack of capability, not simply a lack of resolve, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said January 11, adding that she believes the augmentation of U.S. forces will help the Iraqis achieve this goal.

“If you think it's only a problem of will, then it makes sense to deny any further American help and to say, ‘Go solve it; it's your problem.’  But if you think, in fact, it's a problem of capability and will, then you want them to show the will, but you also want to make certain that they have the capability so that they don't fail,” she told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  The secretary briefed both the House and Senate committees on foreign relations January 11. (See related article.)

She told the senators, “[N]o amount of resolve, if they don't have the capability, is going to help them to deal with the sectarian violence in Baghdad.”

Rice cited progress on the Iraqi hydrocarbons law, review of the de-Baathification process and plans to hold new provincial elections as evidence that the Iraqi government is committed to national reconciliation.  The hydrocarbons law posed a potential threat to national unity as it defines control over Iraq’s most valuable resource.  The de-Baathification process long has been a grievance for Sunnis who were members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party and are barred from government service because of that former affiliation.  And a new round of provincial elections is expected to raise Sunni influence on regional councils where they remain underrepresented because of a boycott in earlier elections.

Rice said the core of President Bush’s new plan is a proposal from Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.  Maliki presented the idea to Bush when the two leaders met in Amman, Jordan, in November 2006.  Rice said Maliki’s initial intention was for Iraqi forces to handle the surge in Baghdad, but subsequent discussions between Iraqi and U.S. military officials determined that the Iraqis would not be in a position for several more months to manage the operation alone.  Given the urgency of the situation, she said, the leaders decided to augment Iraqi forces with U.S. troops.

Rice said Maliki has given Bush assurances about his government’s commitment to resolving the security problem.  These include clear rules of engagement in which no individual and no neighborhood, regardless of sectarian or ethnic affiliation, is off limits to military commanders.  “[T]his is to be even-handed,” she told the congressmen.  “If you're a Shia killer or you're a Sunni killer you are equally guilty before the law.”

She told the senators that the administration would monitor the Iraqis’ commitment level closely and adjust its strategy accordingly.

“We're going to know very soon whether or not there's political interference when [Maliki’s] forces … want to go into a neighborhood.  We're going to know very soon whether or not he is carrying through with his view … which is that if you are Sunni or Shia and you're outside the law and you're killing innocent Iraqis, then you have to pay a price for that.  …  And American forces as they flow in over time will only go to support a policy in which Iraqis are carrying out those obligations,” she said.  “[W]e're not going to stay married to a plan that's not working in Baghdad if the Iraqis are not living up to their part of the obligation.”

Rice expressed optimism that the plan would work given the nature of the conflict.  “It's not just a kind of wild Sunni-on-Shia violence,” she told the congressmen.  She said the violence is an organized operation on the part of Sunni and Shia death squads in defined areas and that if the government can dismantle those death squads, the violence will subside.

The secretary said the surge of U.S. troops in al-Anbar province comes in response to a different set of circumstances.  “[T]his is not because of a sectarian problem,” she told the senators.  “[T]he sheikhs have essentially gotten tired of al-Qaida and want them out.”  She said the tribal leaders have begun raising a local force to fight al-Qaida and added, “[W]e think we may be able to support this local effort.”

The Bush plan calls for sending 4,000 additional U.S. troops to al-Anbar in addition to the increase of more than 17,500 U.S. troops in Baghdad.

For more information on U.S. policy, see Iraq Update.